Things are moving on the environment. Sarah Farley takes a ride on a novel bus and talks to the charity that set it up.
The cleanest, greenest bus on the road is visiting primary schools in Lincolnshire. The Green Bus is a mobile demonstration of the choices and actions open to us all if we want to behave in a more environmentally-friendly manner.
Developed by Lincolnshire County Council, the bus is a step towards meeting the requirements of Agenda 21, an outcome of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit when the United Nations called upon local authorities worldwide to draw up their own action plans on environmental issues by 1996.
It is a big leap from a Rio summit to a bus in the lanes of Lincolnshire, but in local terms the bus is an effective piece of propaganda as long as you discount the comment from the Green Party that it is one more vehicle on the road. Travelling around the towns and villages, Greenergy City Diesel fuelling its extremely clean Euro 2 diesel engine, the Green Bus will stop at primary schools for a day so that groups of children can learn practical methods of energy conservation in their homes and schools, and see how different ways of disposing of waste affect the environment.
Teachers are given an information pack before the bus comes and the children are shown an introductory video on the bus itself, featuring its mascot, Spotta the Otter, beaming with environmental significance. For 20 minutes the children can then discover the secrets of the wall-mounted displays of buttons, flashing lights, jigsaws and taps to turn, each conveying a message about waste disposal or energy conservation. Meanwhile, a second group of 20 is shown round the outside of the bus, learning how and why it is so green. The visit ends with each child receiving a poster illustrating actions they can undertake, a pot of compost, and either a native tree or some wildflower seeds to plant.
The concept of the bus, although originally thought up by Lincolnshire County Council, has been developed by a charity that specialises in providing marketing and communications support for organisations which are promoting environmental or social justice issues. Media Natura, founded eight years ago, offers a unique service which puts people developing, for example, environmental projects in touch with experts from advertising, marketing, public relations, film-making and design.
"Media Natura is a self-funding charity whose aim is to help give organisations with small budgets access to the same professional expertise that major commercial organisations can afford," says Amanda Duncan-Smith, programme director for Media Natura, who also co-ordinated the Green Bus project. "By persuading around 1,200 communications specialists to offer their expertise at a much-reduced rate, we are able to provide top-quality work for organisations for 25 per cent of the rate they would normally pay."
In the case of the Green Bus, Land Design Studio and Pirate Model Makers agreed to a cut in their fees which resulted in a Pounds 55,000 design project for the bus exhibition, video, accompanying poster and Spotta the Otter concept, costing Lincolnshire County Council a reduced price of Pounds 15,000.
"We found Media Natura very helpful, not just for the cost savings, but because they and the experts they found for us streamlined our ideas and made the project work," says Nick Blyth, environment officer for Lincolnshire County Council. "Although primarily intended for children, the bus does have a dual audience for adults too and the presentation of ideas is attractive to both ages. I was impressed with the way ideas have been illustrated, such as the wormery being similar to a kitchen unit and the choices for disposing of glass and cans being made into an informative game."
Media Natura's criteria for accepting a project are that it will raise awareness of environmental or social justice issues and that it will show what choices are available to people when making decisions in these areas. Other projects include a radio advertisement for the Bedfordshire Berkshire Oxfordshire Naturalist Trust, a booklet for Safe Alliance, an agricultural group, and a portable display for Intermediate Technology for use in Third World countries.
For further information on the Green Bus contact Nick Blyth, environment officer, Lincolnshire County Council. Tel: 01522 552293.
Media Natura, 21 Tower Street, London WC2H 9NS. Tel: 0171 240 4936. Fax: 0171 240 2291.